In a quiet and sparsely attended ceremony, the U.S. flag was lowered at Baghdad International Airport on December 15, 2011, marking the official end to the troubled U.S. mission on Iraqi soil. What had begun as an undertaking to remove Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) turned into an 8-year mission that was far more costly than most could have imagined. Looking back, few would likely say that the United States should undertake such an enterprise again if given a chance.
There is a serious need to examine the essential strategic components of Washington’s initial war planning, as well as the subsequent occupation and surge, in order to shed light on the final outcome and current situation in Iraq and to plan for the future. Regardless of the messaging, the overall operation—and in particular, the surge—was a major failure in significantly altering the Iraqi equation for the better, and it laid the foundations for much worse things to come.
What began as a U.S.-led mission to end the perceived danger of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction ended quietly on December 15, 2011, at Baghdad International Airport, with the lowering of the American flag. A decade-long debate about the purpose and utility of the mission has still not concluded.
Policy Debates on Iraq
Although the Iraq war began on March 19, 2003, the debate over its advisability and rationale started well before that date. Supporters of the war were led by President George W. Bush and others within his administration who argued that in light of the terror attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, Saddam’s presumed possession of weapons of mass destruction and perceived connections to al-Qaeda were too great a danger to the homeland to be ignored. As the United Nations’ sanctions regime was seen to be flimsy, if not crumbling, the fear that Baghdad would ally itself with terrorists took on increasing urgency. Congressional leaders, whether convinced of the need for war or merely remembering the political repercussions of having opposed the 1991 Kuwait war, came out relatively strongly in authorizing an October 2002 war resolution.